THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Duke student-athletes Luke Kennard, Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson.
Q. If you all want to chime in, Jayson's obviously had a great second half of the season and month. And I'm wondering, was there a turning point for him? Was it kind of once he got fully healthy, got into the rhythm of things, or what's led to the month he's on right now?
AMILE JEFFERSON: I think it's just the work he's put in, and he's been doing a great job of getting up extra work with Coach Scheyer working on doing things really quickly and just the small things of being a really good player, because the talent is already there. It's oozing out of him.
So for our team, you know, it was just about him being sharp. And this last month, he's been doing an amazing job at evolving, doing much more, things like rebounding, playing really good defense, drawing two guys and finding the open man. I think he's done a really great job over this last month of just like growing up, not making like common freshman mistakes.
MATT JONES: I think Amile answered your question.
LUKE KENNARD: For me, Amile said it 100 percent right. And I think he's just being himself. I think he's being the player that Coach recruited him to be. And he's just -- he's all in. He's just being himself and that's what we wanted him to do. We wanted him to continue to do that, and we have leaders on this team that have really gave him confidence to be the type of player that he can be.
Q. Amile, Harry Giles gave you guys big minutes in the ACC Tournament. He talked about how he was playing more instinctively with the more minutes. How have you seen that help his game and be able to help you guys out as a whole?
AMILE JEFFERSON: Definitely. When he's not thinking about other things, making a mistake, or just out there playing, he's a really great player. He's one of the most athletic guys in the country. His second jump is unbelievable.
So when he just let it all out -- and that's what he did in the ACC tournament, he just let it out -- we saw a really special player.
He had about six sequences back to back to back in that UNC game that changed the game for us, really won the game for us, if I'm being honest. And he's added a new dimension to our team and taken us to a new level. So we have guys that can do that. We have special guys, and he's one of them. So for him to be playing this well, I'm real proud of him.
Q. Luke, has this year surprised you coming off of -- there's obviously all the talk of all the freshmen coming in, probably been the team's most consistent player. What did you do in the offseason in the summer that you think set you up for this year?
LUKE KENNARD: Last year was a learning curve for me. Last year I had a very inconsistent year and my confidence wasn't there 100 percent. But I have guys like these two, great coaches that have built a lot of confidence in me to be the player that Coach recruited me to be.
And like you said, I've been more consistent this year than I was last year. And just for me to do whatever I can to help our team win is what I want to do most.
Like I said about having great leaders, with these guys and coaches to build confidence in me has been really, really big for me.
Q. For all of you, you probably feel like you went to the Final Four last week with the games you had to play. How much did that take out of you? And being successful like you were, talk a little bit about the confidence you have going into the tournament now?
MATT JONES: I think that we have ultimate confidence. As far as being tired, fatigued, I don't see that happening. Me and Amile especially, we know how it feels to lose and lose pretty early.
We just tried to relay the message, hey, it's on to the next play. And Coach does a good job of doing the same. And, yeah, I think we still have a hungry team, and knowing that, that should be good for us.
Q. Luke, was it difficult this year -- at the start you guys came in as preseason No. 1 -- was it a difficult path to kind of get to where you are now? And do you feel like you're now that team that everybody thought you were going to be back in November?
LUKE KENNARD: Yeah, it's definitely been difficult when we've battled so much adversity with injuries and things happening. I mean, when we started the season, we had some of our freshmen out.
So, it can be tough to build your team exactly like how we are now. And once we started getting everybody back, we've continued to develop an identity, I guess you could say. We learned a lot from this past week winning the ACC championship.
We've developed our identity of a team. And I think we're continuing to grow. So it's been difficult. We've been on a great journey. We've hit some bumps in the road. But it's made us better as a team, made us tougher and made us closer as a group.
Q. Amile and Matt, you guys were part of a team, that 2014 team that lost in the first round, and part of the team in 2015 that went all the way and won. Is there anything going into the NCAA Tournament? Was there a difference, or do you see a difference in terms of attitude, confidence, momentum, anything like that?
AMILE JEFFERSON: I think in both those situations, the great thing is that we have the experience now. So going into this year, we know what it feels like to do both. We know the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
So we definitely, you know, have momentum from playing well last week, and I think what we have right now is addition. We've added. And that's a great thing.
We've added Marques. We've added Harry, playing instinctually playing at a high level. We've added Jayson, learning more about himself and learning that he can take over games. So I think the biggest thing for our team is that we have been able to add in these last three or four weeks.
Q. All of the players, you mentioned highs and lows and back to the high of last weekend. How do you keep your mind straight, especially in that low part of the season? Coach is out, you guys are struggling, injuries and such, all the adversity. Is there an unsung hero, a player maybe people just don't know about in the locker room that's keeping your minds right? Maybe another coach that's just keeping things back on track. Is there somebody behind the scenes that really just helped you as a team to keep pushing through the adversity?
LUKE KENNARD: You know, we have great coaches, and when Coach was out, our coaches were, they were tremendous. I think they did a great job.
For me, I think it honestly starts with our leadership, our seniors, our captains. They made sure we were on the right track. They made sure we stayed together.
And it was tough when that happened. But we won some big games. And it all started with these guys, making sure we were just on the right track. And that was good for us.
And like I mentioned earlier, we've hit some bumps in the road. We've hit some adversity. When stuff like that happens we make sure we're together as a group and it's made us a tougher team and an even better team.
MATT JONES: Even though I'm flattered by what Luke said, I think for this team, it was the pain we felt, that really drove us to become better, not only as players, but as people on and off the court. And I mean pain forces you to grow, with Coach being out, with guys being injured. And every day being so unconventional, we had to learn how to adjust.
And the talent was there. It was just about putting it together. And we were able throughout the season strengthen areas little by little to where now all those areas that we were able to strengthen are starting to come together and that was a really good thing for us now that we can look back on it. But in the process, it was definitely -- it was definitely hard and we had to learn from it.
Q. Amile and Matt, what has Luke meant to this team this year? And are you at all surprised at what he's done, considering when the season was starting, initially he wasn't going to be a starter. Admittedly inconsistent last year, and now he's obviously one of the best players in the country?
AMILE JEFFERSON: For me, I think Luke has been the consummate Duke player. He's emulated what it means to be immersed in us and because of that he's grown beautifully.
It's obvious that he's been our most consistent threat, our most consistent player. And he's won big games for us. And we wouldn't be in this position without him. So I think it's just a testament to all the work that he put in, especially this summer.
And then just running his own race, not worrying about whether he's going to start, how many minutes he's going to play, just being a player. And when his number was called, he was ready, and I think he's done it beautifully.
MATT JONES: For me, Luke's been the ultimate competitor this year. He's shown that he can be a winner. Kind of like everything Amile says. But the consistency was the most important thing because he always had the talent. It was always there.
But for him to be able to pull out something that was in him that y'all are able to see but we always saw, whether it be in the summer or parts of last year, I'm really happy for him.
Q. What have you guys noticed most about Troy?
AMILE JEFFERSON: Troy can really shoot the ball. We have a kid in Person who is just really a dynamic shooter. Then they have a big guy in Varnado, who is a force down low, but who can spread the ball and shoot it. They have about six or seven guys that can knock down the long ball.
So we're going to have to be really locked in. They're champions, just like us. They won their league. And they did it in a similar fashion, you know, win four games in five days. So we have to be locked in, because they're a really, really talented team.
Q. Couple of games are already over, you guys will be one of the last teams to play in this tournament. Is that a good thing in terms of the extra rest, or is it bad that it's nervous waiting for the first game?
LUKE KENNARD: I mean, playing one of the last games, I guess, it can give you more time to prepare. But at the same time we don't want to be focused on what other teams are doing, paying attention to who is winning, who is getting beat.
We're just trying to stay locked in what we're doing and prepare as a group. And we have one mission, we have one goal, and that's to win. And we've got to take it one game at a time and that's what we're looking to do.
Q. Luke, earlier you said this summer Grayson really helped you. Can you tell me, like, how did he help you? Was it with your game? Was it with the mental side? He had kind of gone through what you were going through in terms of freshman year, not probably playing at your best, and obviously had a great sophomore year?
LUKE KENNARD: Yeah. I learned a lot from Grayson this past year. Well, the two years I've been here. And I think for me just being able to compete against him has made me a lot better to learn from his competitive side. Just to talking about the little things of the game has really helped me a lot.
And just being able to go at each other in practices throughout the summer and in pick-up games has made me more comfortable as a player and all the guys have built confidence in me as the player I am. And it's just been really good for me.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. We're joined by coach Mike Krzyzewski.
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: We're excited to be here in Greenville. Great city to host the NCAA Tournament. And hopefully we'll fulfill our obligations to play some good basketball.
We're in pretty good health. We have a couple of kids a little bit under the weather but who will play, but no, like, sprained ankles and things like that.
But after you have a week like we did last week, I think you're more prone to having some colds and all that kind of stuff because of the emotional and physical output that you had in order to win. But we're good. We're excited. Ready to go.
Q. Back in Charlotte in October, you were like, yeah, we may be No. 1 right now, but there's a long, long way to go. What kind of journey has this been for your team? And how do you -- do you think now they're playing like many people thought they would be in October?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: I don't know what many people thought because none of the people saw. So how could -- I guess that's what predictions are. And that's why people make money and that's why people go bankrupt by predictions.
And if you did a careful analysis of each team and understood that each team has a journey, and ours was a difficult one, because every guy on our team got hurt. I was out.
So it's not about what people thought we should be, because that really doesn't make any difference. And it wasn't based on any factual stuff that they saw. So we've just developed. And we're a good team right now. We haven't used any of that stuff as excuses. And our league, in order to survive, you have to be good.
In order to live in that neighborhood, you better become good. And that's why we have a lot of good teams. We're one of them. And thank goodness that the conference exacts that from you and that we're healthy enough to meet that challenge.
Q. What about this year is different or needs to be different compared to years past?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: For what, for --
Q. In order to make it to the finals.
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Each year it's different. You have a different team. You're not Brady and Belichick coming back or hopefully the Cubs do it again. I'm a Cub fan. We have most people back. Should have kept Fowler.
It's a different journey every time. And I like my team a lot. I'm proud of them. I think they've become men. And that's a good thing.
So going into it we feel we had a chance to give our best shot. We play a team, and every time that -- you know, can beat us, and we respect that. And I think my team is mature enough to understand that.
So it's what makes it interesting. That's why if you win this thing, it's a heck of a thing. And if you win it more than once, it's really a heck of a thing, because you do it with different people in different circumstances.
So I like my group a lot. And my upperclassmen, Matt and Amile, have really helped us immensely in their leadership to bring this team around.
Q. For years, since the one-and-done got big, you had a guy like Amile and Matt played with you four years. Got to cover Matt in high school. What's your take on what he's done for you over his career?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Well, he's a believer. In other words, he's an extension of the coaching staff, not just on the court but on the practice court, the bus and team meal.
He basically has lifted up the standards of our program. And for four years. In Amile's case, five. And that helps these young guys immensely.
And then they also understand by being in so many games -- they've been in games where we've gotten beat and they've won championships. And they've won a national championship. And so they understand the process. And to be true to the process and to stick with it.
And Matt and Amile have been so instrumental in bringing this team along. We're really lucky to have them. I love those two guys. We've won a lot of games together, and we've developed this team together as a result of the relationship of staff and especially with those two kids.
Q. With everything that you've been through this year, what do you think's been the big lesson this team's learned?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: No excuses. And try to win with what you have. And with the amount of preparation and whatever continuity you've had. When I was out from back surgery, I went out and Amile got hurt.
And it's much more important that Amile played than I was there. And so we didn't have the continuity and the ability to prepare and get to know one another as well until February.
And then these last three, four weeks we've, Matt's been healthy. Amile and Grayson have been, they've been hurt but they're better, a lot better. But we've had them all there. And as a result they've gotten to know one another better. And we've won close games. We've lost a couple of close games. But, again, we keep getting better.
Q. As much as you've enjoyed being here in Greenville, is there any sadness that this tournament isn't being played in Greensboro, where it was originally scheduled, and it might not be back in North Carolina again?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: I don't want to take away from the great people of South Carolina and the people of Greenville. They have the right to host it whether our state is smart enough to have it. It shouldn't be a contest of one another. South Carolina is known for great basketball, and this is a great town. So we feel really good about being here.
It would be nice if our state got as smart and also would host not just basketball tournaments but concerts and other NCAA events. But maybe we'll get there in the next century, I don't know. We'll see.
Q. What's the solution then to the previous question?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: I don't want to get political right now.
Q. Fair enough. Then following up one more time --
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Look, it's a stupid thing. That's my political statement. If I was president or governor I'd get rid of it. And I'd back up my promises. As unusual as that might be. Anyway, I don't want to get too political.
Q. What do you think has been the difference with Jayson this last month? And obviously he's playing as well as anyone in the country?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: It's a good question. You'd have to just follow how Jayson was able to prepare. And the third week of October he was really playing well and he hurt his foot. And he's out for more than five weeks, missed eight games.
And even when he came back he didn't have -- because there were exams, Christmas break or whatever -- there's about a two-month gap of the preparation that any player needs but especially a freshman needs, and he's so good and he's so committed and our guys are good with him, that since the beginning of January when we were able to have that he's progressed that much. And I'm proud of him.
I think he'd be playing at this level earlier. But I'm glad he's been able to achieve the level that he's playing at during this season that he's playing college basketball.
Q. Kind of back to the point you asked about before, how surreal has this year been for you because you had a stop and start again in terms of being in sync and being in the flow of a typical season?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Well, for me, even though I had the surgery, I was watching tape and being with the team every day. Maybe not physically. So I never got completely out of sync. And I have a great staff. Jeff Capel did an amazing job while I was gone and he's my associate head coach. And a lot of what we do is what he thinks we should do.
So I like that. But I haven't really been out of sync. The team has not had the ability to be in sync. And I've gotten well. So I'm fresh. I'm good. I've been ready to go. And but for about a month and a half or so there not good.
Q. What is one thing you think your team has gained from winning the ACC championship to prepare for the tournament?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Well, an ACC championship. That's the very first thing. And I say that not being like joking. It's a tremendous honor. And confidence comes through with achievement. And when you -- I think our confidence -- it was good, real good going into the tournament.
It's better as a result of playing those four games and winning. And now just we have to make sure that our confidence coincides with the ability to still prepare, not have a rearview mirror and look back at it but to be in the moment.
They were in the moment in New York and they got better. Now we have to be in the moment here against Troy.
Q. When you look at Luke's year, how surprising is it when you consider the preseason there was talk that he wasn't going to be a starter, and he admittedly had an up-and-down freshman year? Now he's had as good of a season as anyone in the country.
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: There you go again based on listening to people who haven't seen him. People didn't see him in practice or whatever and predictions and all that. We can't live in that world.
And it's -- we live in a world of quick judgment and shallow analysis. And that's not how you prepare a really good team. Luke's been great since the get-go. He had a terrific freshman year.
Actually, in one of our inner-squad scrimmages before Jayson and Marques got hurt, I think Luke scored 47 points. And I said, well, he might be pretty good even though it wasn't based on factual prediction of what he might be. So it doesn't surprise me what look has done.
Luke's a heck of a basketball player and competitor. And because he doesn't have a position, we can use him in different parts of the court, and his efficiency is unbelievable. To put up those numbers but not take the number of shots is really good. It's really good.
Q. How much do you confer with Steve Wojciechowski during the season? And what kind of qualities do you see in his team that you see in your team?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Well, I wish we could shoot as well as his team. They lead the nation in shooting. You don't converse that much, I think. After a big win you text or call. After a tough loss it seemed more important to text or call. Both ways, when I was going through my surgery and that, my assistants who are now head coaches.
We have a family. Steve and I are family. We spent -- heck, it's probably 19, 20 years. Are you kidding me? And besides that, he's Polish. So we share an even greater bond. And he didn't change his name and I didn't change mine.
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: The fact that they share the ball so well. And I think what Steve has done is he's taken the talent that he has and meshed it into a style that can beat you instead of trying to fit guys into another style that wouldn't be as successful.
And a big thing for him, they play good defense but they play even better offense. I mean, they play -- I haven't watched them to study them yet. That's just when I get a chance to watch them. I've studied Troy. That's all. So I just hope we get a chance to play on Sunday.
Q. What have you seen out of Troy that impresses you the most?
COACH KRZYZEWSKI: Well, first of all, the fact that they've won four games in five days. The Sun Belt is a really good conference, historically and again this year.
And what Person's done is unbelievable in the tournament. And they have a team that can really score the ball. Almost 50 percent, 45 percent of their shots are 3s. They're dangerous. And the fact they've won makes them even more dangerous.
So we respect them, no question about it.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.